Thursday, July 30, 2009

HotDish of the Week

Apparently, my friends are making a habit of being featured in magazines. Just when I think there is nothing exciting to report another friend casually mentions over coffee “Oh…yeah….I have a five page” – FIVE PAGE – “spread in The Knot: Minnesota.”


Meet Michelle and Sargam. I was lucky enough to attend their magazine-worthy wedding in Minnesota, which was a mixture of Indian and Western cultures – brilliant. Who knew curry went so well with lutefisk?

Michelle and I grew up in the same small town – Wimbledon, ND, population 300 (that’s 300 people, not 300 thousand.) Fifteen years later we reconnected in LA – she had moved here for love…I had moved here because I had a momentary lapse of good-judgment.

I live in their guest house, work for Sargam’s company (until I am famous, as he always reminds me,) watch their dogs, and generally insert myself into their life wherever I can. “Hey guys, whatcha doing tonight?? Oh, having a romantic dinner and watching a movie? Great! I’ll be there at 7:00!!”

We even have an organic garden – which I think officially makes us a Commune.

During our first meeting in LA they had invited me to a party. I was desperate for human connections – having been in LA for only four days and the only person who had spoken to me was the Armenian man at the liquor store who just kept repeating “You have veddy bootiful eyes….”

After someone asked me how I was liking LA I had happily (with a hint of desperation) announced to the entire party, “Well…I am currently in the market for an apartment, a job, and friends. So, if anyone knows of where I could find any of those things…you know….just let me know…”

Thanks for stepping up to the plate guys. I love you.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Red Carpet

Today was a rough day.

First of all, it’s HOT in LA. That always makes things worse for me. I am not a fan of being warm. Growing up in the Midwest, my idea of warm was a nice 70-75 degree day with a light breeze. Not like a summer in LA where it’s 93 in the shade with no breeze unless you count the BMWs speeding past you.

Second, an audition I was really looking forward to was canceled. It felt like the one life-giving river of hope I was counting on to get me through the summer had dried up – okay, that was a little dramatic. But anyway, it was a big bummer.

Thirdly, I was hangry (for those of you unfamiliar with this term it is a dangerous combo of hungry and angry.) So I decided to check out the newly reopened Pavilion’s Grocery Store down the street. I got in my Yaris (which was like getting in a little red hand basket to hell) and drove to the store, positive that this trip would improve my day.

After circling the store a couple of times I finally find the entrance. As I’m pulling into the parking lot, I see a group of people in black shirts standing there, waiting to greet me. There are “Grand Opening” signs posted everywhere and my heart quickens and the thought of samples and Frisbees with the store logo printed on the front. A black–shirted man stops me as I pull in.

“How are you doing today, m’am”

(I'm hot and tired and hangry…how do you think I’m doing?)

“Fine, thanks. How are you.”

“Good. Are you here to shop today?”

I stare at him blankly. Why else would I be here?


“I’m sorry m’am. Today we are having a red carpet event for the Grand Opening and the store will be open tomorrow.”

I look around. Sure enough there is a red carpet leading into the grocery store with the whole kitten-caboodle of ropes, cameras, and what appears to be press. That’s right, a RED CARPET AT A GROCERY STORE. As I drive away I remember the good ol’ days of my hometown where a grocery store grand opening meant a free scoop of vanilla ice cream and a red balloon. I guess in Los Angeles the ice cream would have too many calories…but at least there could have been a free balloon.

I swing around to Trader Joe’s – take that Pavilions – inside which a man who really should have thought about showering prior to picking out his produce follows me around the store. When I finally reach the check out I say sheepishly to the cashier, “I forgot my cloth grocery bag…sorry!”

To which she replies, “We’ll forgive you.” But judging by her tone wanted to add, “But the planet won’t.”

After getting sucked in by a woman selling make-up endorsed by some celebrity make-up artist I had never heard of (But she will donate 5% of the $35 to Operation Smile….5%?!?!!? – that’s $1.75…how generous of her….) I raced back to my air conditioned apartment and collapsed on my couch.

Sometimes this city can take all of its ridiculousness and dump it on you in one fell swoop. At moments like this, I feel like I can no longer live in a city that gives grocery stores red carpets and no ice cream – life is just too short for no ice cream.

But as I sit in my air-conditioned, quiet, cute little apartment I try and force some perspective. I remember that tonight I’m going to a play with one of my best friends in Los Angeles, that tomorrow I am dressing up and attending a pirate party on a ship, that I have air conditioning, that I have friends, and that there will be other auditions. And I realize, life is actually too short for me not to live in Los Angeles.

But it is damn hot....

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

HotDish of the Week

Just like a good Midwest potluck I’m bringing something new to the table. Welcome to the first installment of the 'HotDish of the Week.' In addition to my normal, run of the mill LA anecdotes, this will be a brief mention of something I’m really excited about/really hating. (Not that I have ever hated anything in my whole, sweet Midwest Girl life…) Enjoy!

My friend Noah is famous. At least he is to me and anyone else who reads Los Angeles Magazine. He is featured this month as the LA Archetype “Actor-Waiter.” Buy one! Read it! Noah is talented, driven, deserving and one of my first friends in LA.

With every person I share this article with, Noah and my relationship becomes stronger and stronger. As if I can achieve fame by proxy. It has moved from “look at this article, one of my best friends in LA is featured” to “my very best friend in the whole universe is in Los Angeles Magazine.” We will probably get married when he is a movie star.

What can I say….I’m a fickle fickle girl.

We celebrated by eating at Animal. If you are a carnivore and are willing to try things like pig stomach and foie gras then I would highly recommend it. And for those of you silently judging me for eating anything with the word “stomach” in the description…you would have too if it was covered in butter, gravy, and maple syrup.

Congratulations to Noah, ‘my best friend in the whole world who I’m so close with I would donate both my kidney’s!’ I love you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Zero Degrees of Separation

Some people say I look like Kevin Bacon.

Let me back up. In Hollywood I have found that it is important to have your niche – the thing you do or the way you look on which you can capitalize. My agent is always asking me how he can “spin me.” As I sit in his office while he brainstorms on my finer qualities, I blissfully remember my college theater years. In the safe haven of a “learning environment” I was allowed to play child-killing psychos and manipulative bitches. Ahhhh the good ol’ days…. Now, in LA, my options seem limited to playing sweet friends and quirky funny ladies. Because that’s what people see when they look at me. Damn these blue eyes and my affinity for dresses.

When I first moved to Hollywood I was shocked at how much of my true self I was asked to bring to my performances. Coming from a theatre background I was not prepared. In theatre, it's about who you could be (i.e. child-killing psycho.) In film, it's about who you are. Apparently, to become a great film actor you have to let down those walls and be willing to expose those sensitive, embarrassing, emotions.

As I try to silence my soul, which screams incredulously – ‘But I don’t have serious emotions…I’m from the Midwest,’ I buckle down and start putting my true self out there. The quirky, dorky, dontcha-ya-know Midwestern girl I am.

But back to Kevin Bacon.

I have had four people – two of them strangers – on four different occasions tell me that I resemble Mr. Bacon. Why these strangers decided (one in a coffee shop, one in a restaurant) to ruin my day by sharing this little nugget of destruction is beyond me. Why my friends bought it to my attention is probably some reason like, “they wanted me to hear it from them first.”

Now, I am not above shameless self-promotion and self-exploitation – all in the name of my career of course. After doing an extensive online search for Footloose photos, comparing them with mine, and crying at the unfairness of it all, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wrote a letter to Mr. Bacon’s agent letting him know that if his client had any movies coming up please give me a call as I could pass for his daughter.

I guess my point (and yes I do have one) is that I have to learn to embrace what makes me, me. I have to stop thinking if only I had curly hair, or short hair, or bigger eyes, or smaller thighs I would start getting cast. I have to remember that some directors are looking for a dorky, slightly awkward blue-eyed girl who maybe…in the right light…looks a little like that guy from Footloose.

So Kevin – if you’re reading this – give me a call. I think together we could be unstoppable.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Star Danced

I’ve always wanted to be an inspiration.

I’ve always wanted to be someone who makes people see themselves in a different light. It’s one of the reasons I’m an actor. In the last three months I have lost two influential people in my life, both college professors.

My Shakespeare professor, Dr. Gordon Lell, died in April. Thanks to this man, I now have an uncanny ability to rattle off Shakespearean facts and the need to purchase every Shakespeare Bobble Head I see.

I invited Dr. Lell to my college graduation. I told him in an email that he didn’t have to bring a gift unless he was going to bring that black BMW I had always wanted (aren’t I clever…) He showed up to my reception wearing his classic tweed suit and handed me a magazine page on which was a picture of a beautiful black BMW. Scribbled across the top he had written, “It’s the thought that counts, right?” Indeed. He then handed me a card and when I protested (No gifts!!) he just smiled and said it was nothing. As I opened the card I noticed a yellow post-it stuck to the top. He had written, in his scribbled hand,

“…but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born.”
Much Ado About Nothing 2.1 319-20

It wasn’t nothing to me, Dr. Lell. I still have that yellow post-it.


Helen Cermak, my theatre professor, director, and fellow feminist ended her battle with cancer yesterday.

She taught one of the most influential classes I took at Concordia: Women in Theatre. This class changed the way I felt about being a woman. Helen taught me that I don’t have to apologize for having an opinion, that I should be proud and not ashamed of my body, and to constantly strive for equality in big things (like wages) to smaller things (like way we speak to each other.)

During every class, Helen would ask a question that called for a bold, risky answer. She would call on us to give our opinions about books, plays, or our place in the world. And every single day she would say,

”Jessica, Jessica….what do you think?”

Despite my downcast eyes and the fact that I made a habit of trying to sit out of her eye line, she would always ask me first. It became a class joke and it would drive me crazy.

As I think about that now, I think Helen was trying to make a point. She knew the thing I struggled with most was giving my opinion regardless of what other people thought. I wanted to be the sweet, nice, Midwest girl! Heaven forbid I be a woman with an idea different from someone else!! Everyday she forced me to own up to the fact that I – much to my surprise – have an opinion.

When I heard that Helen had passed away so quickly after Dr. Lell, I didn’t quite know what to do. I couldn’t fly back for the memorial service because I am the poor struggling artist she always wanted me to be.

Death always confuses me. What do you do when you hear someone has died? Do you pause? Do you stop your day? Do you cry? Do you laugh?

Or do you keep on going?

Keep on living the way they taught you to live. Keep on striving to make art and to seek knowledge. Keep on trying to make them proud. Their legacy lives on through the beauty they taught their students to create. I guess you can never really lose someone if you keep giving back what they gave you.

I have taken with what they have taught me to my life here in Hollywood. Every time I feel that I’m not good enough, I remember Dr. Lell and that yellow post-it. I remember Helen every time I sit down to write this blog and remind myself that I am a brilliant, smart woman with my own opinions…and I don’t have to apologize for that.

Thank you.

Thank you Gordon and Helen for reminding me that I am an artist and I have something beautiful to contribute to the world.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

I year, 26 days, and 8 hours

I have been in Los Angeles 1 year, 26 days, and approximately 5 hours. Not that I’m keeping track…

As I was walking back from Urth Café (where I’ve been seen every day for 1 year 4 days and approximately 3 hours) I was thinking about how I could put into words this big accomplishment. If only there was some image, some fun anecdote that would help me explain the way I feel. And like a gift from God - or maybe Jesus from Sunset and La Cienega – I saw him.

He was shirtless, wearing short shorts, big blue plastic ray-bans, and holding onto a leash that was attached to a dog so small I could have easily fit him in my pocket. He was oblivious to the world as he was listening to his iPod and boldly singing along with the music as he waited for his little rat dog to finish her business.

“Take it off…yeah yeah yeah….Take it off….yeah yeah yeah.”

As I passed by, unnoticed, I wanted to let him know if he took anymore off he might be arrested.

This man did not care that he couldn’t sing, that maybe his shorts were just a bit too short, or that such big man with such a small dog is funny to us common folk. He just seemed happy.

At first I was annoyed. Who does this guy think he is? Not caring in LA? He looks absolutely ridiculous. How dare he be so happy!! But then that little voice inside me – the voice casting directors, diets, and snooty boutique owners drown out – spoke up and said something momentous.


Since moving to LA 1 year, 25 days, and approximately 6 hours ago I’ve started caring too much what other people think of me. I think most people in Los Angeles – judging by the sunglasses, diets, and fancy cars – feel the same way. It’s hard to stare criticism in the face everyday and boldly proclaim, “I don’t care what you think of me. I am good enough no matter what you say.”

It has taken me a little more than a year in Los Angeles to realize that I do care. Hopefully it will take less than that to wean myself from this addictive attitude. Someday I hope to be like that man in short shorts and not give a flying you-know-what what other people are thinking of me. I would like to climb to the top of the Hollywood sign, look down at all of Los Angeles and scream at the top of my lungs….

I don’t care if I’m not what you are looking for!

I don’t care that I had chocolate cake for supper!

I don’t care that I’m not wearing the right label!

I don’t care that you filmed a movie with Brad Pitt!

I don’t care that you think I’m too fat, skinny, tan, pale, inexperienced, too experienced, nice, bitchy, cold, warm, or naïve.

I don’t care because I AM GOOD ENOUGH.

Yes, someday I will climb up that sign and let the world know that I am above caring what anyone else thinks. But not right now….

After all I’ve only been here 1 year, 25 days, and 7 hours. A girl needs some time before she breaks multiple trespassing laws and asserts herself. For now, my big “look how much I don’t care what you think” moment was not shaving my legs for 10 days.

Take that society.